Vashtie Kola. Not ringing a bell? Well it’s time to get familiar. New York’s “Downtown Sweetheart” has been hustling the mean streets of NYC for some time now. She’s been seen directing music videos for Kid Cudi (“Heaven at Nite“), creating her own fashion line, Violette, and organizing the wildly successful “1992” and “Open” parties. Vashtie has a gift for bridging the gap between underground trend movements and mass appeal, a talent that has garnered her no little amount of praise and a highly enviable client list. Earlier this year we sat down for a Q+A with this multi-talented maven. We discussed her life in the city, creativity, and being in the public eye, and we learned that she’s far more than just New York’s “it girl”.
If you could describe the Vashtie Kola personal brand–who you are, what you stand for—what would be its staples?
—My brand represents misfit youth. It’s a voice that speaks for those who have yet to find a place; kids who don’t fit into a box and are not what they appear to be. I grew up as the underdog and the weirdo in class. I think I stand for those kids; the ones who choose their own lane.
NYC has been the backdrop for your grind. What’s stood out as helping you develop your hustle?
—The beauty of New York City is that everyone is hustling. The waitress in the cafe is also an actress. The bartender is a producer by day, and so on. It’s just natural. Also, it’s a great networking city because of that. You bump into someone on the train and could find your next employer and what not. I think it also helps that my parents immigrated to America. Seeing the hustle of my parents helped.
You have many creative loves. Was film your first career choice? Did you notice your interests diverging after you chose to pursue your degree in film or were they always pretty broad?
—As long as I can remember, I was always making things: drawing, painting, sculpting. It’s what I love…making art. When I was about 10 or 11, I became obsessed with film and music videos. I couldn’t really dive into it because it wasn’t as convenient for me at the time. It’s not like drawing where all you need is a pen and paper. You can either draw or you can’t. You can learn, but you don’t have to if the ability is innate. With film, you can have a story, but you need to learn the whole process of film. It’s much more technical than the other areas of art that I knew. I felt that it made sense to study and master film.
While I was in school, I was still interested in doing fashion. I wanted to start a brand 10 years ago but waited. In school, I took a silk screen class and started making tees.
Creatively, you straddle a lot of projects: directing, promotion, design. Is it all one creative process for you or do you find yourself stepping back to change gears between mediums?
—They’re all creative yet very different. Directing begins very solitary and then becomes a team effort. Parties are very much based on a team effort and community. Design for me, right now, is solitary and pure because I don’t have to answer to anyone. I’m doing it all myself and I’m making the things I want to wear. I have a different process for each so, yes, I have to switch gears,
Considering how quickly trends and cultural movements can spring up and disappear, how do you stay ahead of the curve?
—Living in the trenches helps. I’ve never been the type of person to believe my own hype or want to upgrade my surroundings to a degree where I lose who I am or what is cool.
What does a product/brand/artist/ have to accomplish to make your list of “cool”, “hip”, or “relevant?”
—I always lean towards things that are completely true in design and not trying to copy (someone or something else) or be something it’s not; I love things that are unapologetically true to themselves.
Where do you go to find out what’s next? On which blogs do you spend your precious internet time?
—My attention span is horrendous. I can barely check my own blog, ha. I usually spend my time researching art related things…movies, artists, etc. I don’t seek out “what’s next.” Living in New York City is kind of a cheat sheet. The scene here is extremely forward.
There’s personal Vashtie and then there’s public Vashtie. Do those lines ever get blurred?
—It’s funny because to some I’m very public, but for the people who really know me I’m very private. The people who read my blog have a sense of who I am, but there’s a lot they don’t know because I choose not to show it.
You see yourself eventually filming documentaries. What’s the story you’d most like to capture and produce on film?
-There are so many stories, but I’d like to cover women making moves around the world.
The 1992 party became a hit in a short amount of time. What’s the history behind you starting it and who were your partners in crime?
-My best friend Oscar and I came up with it when we were bored one night. We were talking about how parties in New York City had become such a scene where you weren’t cool enough unless you wearing a dope brand. It wasn’t about the music; It was about the superficial stuff. We decided we would just do our own thing and invite our friends. It was organic.
You’re known as “*downtown’s sweetheart.*” What do you think has made you the force that you are in that scene?
-I’m just friendly by nature. I’ve always been the tomboy little sister that can hang, so I think that also helps. I’ve always been drawn to “downtown” scenes, areas where all kinds of people are doing their own thing. No one is following someone else’s trends. Even in Albany, where I’m from, I lived downtown and chilled downtown. I think being nice and creative has made me a force in the scene, but I also paid my dues. I came to the city knowing no one, and just made it happen.
Are there any other women making moves in the scene like you?
-Sure, there are a lot. ERIN from MadeMe (designer), Jasmine Solano (rapper), the MISS CREW in LA, LEAH at MTTM, JADE (singer), AZEALIA BANKS (rapper), INDIE 184 (graffiti artist), DIANE MARTEL (music video director) and many more.
Do you have any advice for other women entering creative fields in the NYC scene?
-I can’t stress following your heart enough. I see some people following careers for fame and money and they end up unsuccessful and unhappy. I think you should find what you love to do and do it. If you love baking, then find a way to make money from baking; if you love dressing up, then find a way to be a stylist.
You’ve worked with another RetroTalk feature, Kid Cudi. How did he get involved with you?
-We met at one of my 1992 parties a few years ago through Plain Pat. We just kind of vibed right away. He’s such a talented and funny guy. He’s just fun to be around. We did that YouTube video for fun. We were all just hanging out and came up with it, unscripted.
Your blog has placed you front and center. With so many people watching, what should we expect next?
-Anything and everything. I’m just a kid who likes to make stuff.
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